anniversary, Bill, love, marriage, memories

What happened after September 12, 2001…

Yesterday was the 21st anniversary of 9/11. I noticed that not a lot of people posted about it, probably because a lot of us are preoccupied with the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II. I know I watched some of her final journey from Balmoral to Edinburgh. Although I’ve seen some posts about how the monarchy needs to be abolished, the truth is, a lot of people loved the queen. Of course she wasn’t perfect, and there were some things she did that angered people. But then, nobody’s perfect… and I’m not so sure it’s that easy to dissolve the British monarchy. Maybe it will happen someday, but I don’t think it will in my lifetime.

In any case, every year on 9/11, I remember what I was doing that day. I even remember what I was wearing. I remember how, all day, I wondered if Bill was okay. He had just been relocated to the Pentagon and was working there on 9/11. He happened to be in the wedge that got hit. In fact, his office had just been moved the week prior. If it hadn’t been moved, he probably would have been killed on 9/11. We were just “friends” at that point, having just spent a truly wonderful Labor Day weekend together. I knew we were developing strong romantic feelings for each other, but we still hadn’t really made our relationship public. And so, on 9/11/01, no one would have known to tell me if Bill had died or been injured.

I remember that evening, talking to my mom on the phone. I told her about my “friend” who worked in the Pentagon. She was an experienced Air Force wife, so she gave me some advice. After I got off the phone, I got a PM from Bill on Yahoo! Messenger. He said he’d tried to call me, but he had the wrong number. We had a serious conversation, and I told him that if he considered me his girlfriend, it might be a good idea to tell people about my existence. He agreed, and we announced to friends and family that we were together.

We also started to date in person regularly. This was a new thing for me, because I didn’t really date much at all before I met Bill. I’d had a high school boyfriend, but that was a very platonic relationship. I had no sexual history to speak of, and although I was only 29 years old, I thought I was going to die a virgin. So it was kind of strange to be dating a man, especially since he was divorced and had children.

Because I lived in South Carolina and he lived in Virginia, our dates involved long weekends at one or the other’s apartments. I came to enjoy those weekends very much, even though we were both broke. We were just so comfortable with each other. We always had a good time doing whatever… watching movies, taking walks, eating cheap food… and then he decided not to practice Mormonism anymore, which was a great thing. I remember going to his apartment once, having left beer in his fridge during my last visit. The beer was finished. I asked him what happened to it, and he said he drank it. I said, “Yea!”

In November 2001, Bill and his mom joined us at our Thanksgiving shindig at my Granny’s house in Virginia. They fit right in with my family. Bill’s mom liked me, and my parents loved Bill, which I knew they would. My dad made jokes about Bill being LDS, but I assured him that when he met Bill, he’d love him. Sure enough, I was right. I went to visit Bill at Christmas; then he flew to Arizona to see his kids. That turned out to be his last good holiday with his kids before his Ex went into full alienation mode.

A few weeks later, we were online, and I told Bill I wanted to give him a candy pop ring. He said, “Don’t do that… because I want to give you a ring.”

“Does this mean you want to get married?” I asked.

“Yes.” He said.

“So are we now engaged?” I asked.

“Yes, I think so.” He said.

I went into my last semester of graduate school unexpectedly engaged to be married. I never thought it would happen. Two months later, before I got on a plane to Jamaica to attend my sister’s destination wedding, Bill took me out to dinner at 1789 restaurant in Georgetown, where he presented me with a beautiful engagement ring. I’ve worn it every day since then. My finger has a permanent groove in it. 2002 was a big year for us… I finished dual master’s degrees and got married. I became a military wife and stepmother. Of course, I barely count myself as a stepmother, given how alienated Bill’s daughters were. But at least one of them came around, eventually.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been married for almost 20 years. In just two months, we’ll pass that milestone. It seems like yesterday, we were online friends, and I was wondering if he’d survived 9/11. I’m so grateful that he did survive, because I could not have imagined a more perfect husband for me. We are ridiculously compatible, which is no small feat. Like I said, it’s not like I dated much before we met. I look at the state of the world now, and I feel fortunate that Bill and I have been together to experience it. We’ve shared a lot of incredible life events that have run the gamut, happy, sad, infuriating, amazing… And we still light up each other’s faces. Below is a photo I took on Saturday, after we’d been drinking wine in the rain at our village’s wine fest. It amazes me that after twenty years, I still smile like this when I’m with Bill.

No makeup… and my chins showed up, too.

Anyway… I didn’t mean to get all mushy. I guess I just wanted to write something kind of sweet for once, instead of something angry, snarky, or depressing. The day after 9/11, we were an official couple.  Four months after that, we were engaged.  Ten months after we got engaged, we were married at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.  The last twenty years have flown by.  Despite my bitching, grousing, moaning, and negativity, it’s mostly been a wonderful trip.  But it definitely hasn’t been without its challenges, as any regular reader of this blog knows.  

I’m so glad I took that leap of faith.  I would not trade my life now for what I was preparing for when Bill and I met.  It would have been a very different life for me… I might have been successful.  Maybe I might have even found another man to love, although I think it might be hard to find one that is as compatible as Bill is.    

I don’t get crushes anymore.  I don’t have any temptation to be with anyone else.  I don’t know if that’s normal, but I do know that while I might notice a good looking man, I don’t feel like trading Bill for that other guy.  I don’t wonder about intimacy with other men.  I don’t wonder how it would have turned out if one of my old crushes had liked me back.  I don’t know if that makes me unusual or lucky.  I just know that the one thing in life that I really did do right was get married to Bill.

While I don’t cherish the horrific memories of 9/11, I do think that 9/11 pushed us together sooner. I don’t think we would have been as quick to get together if it weren’t for that terrible day, when I didn’t know if he was dead or alive, and he didn’t know if he was going to survive. Bill was recovering from a truly toxic relationship, and I was just nervous and scared, and wanting to finally launch a career I might have been proud of. I guess the universe simply had different plans for both of us. I really can’t complain. In fact, every day, it amazes me how things have turned out for us.

Thank God for guys like Bill… who appreciate complicated women like me.  I can’t imagine being with anyone else…

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Bill, family, love, marriage

Few people manage to “come see the softer side of me…”

Some years ago, before its recent financial woes, the retail store Sears had a catchy jingle that went, “Come see the softer side of Sears.” It was about how the store, known for its hardware, heavy mechanical goods, and power tools, also sold things like fuzzy sweaters and silky nightgowns. Potential customers were invited to “come see the softer side” of the retailer and maybe go home having bought new sheets or a fluffy bathrobe.

It’s not lost on me that, especially online, sometimes I come off as a really cantankerous person. There are a number of reasons why I’m like this. A lot has to do with my own personal baggage and traumas from my childhood. A lot of those damages were caused by my family of origin. Some were caused by people outside of the family. I’m not necessarily trying to blame anyone for this, by the way. I think everybody has the potential to unintentionally damage other people. We all have baggage, don’t we? Sometimes, that baggage causes pain to others.

For instance, I know that my father wasn’t an evil man. Most people who knew him would never think that about him. He was outwardly a very nice guy– at least to those who didn’t have to live with him. They saw him as a “peach”– soft, sweet, and fuzzy on the outside. But the truth is, he had a lot of personal problems that were brought on by his own upbringing and situations he was forced to face in his lifetime. Like, for example, his time in the Air Force during the Vietnam War era. He went over there and came home with PTSD. But he was also the eldest son of a violent alcoholic who was abusive. He never dealt with that issue adequately, so he passed that crap along to others. I was one of the recipients of his crap, and sometimes I pass it along in the form of being cranky online.

I don’t necessarily blame my grandfather for my dad’s crap. Like my father, my grandfather wasn’t an evil man. But he did have problems, and sometimes his problems became problems for other people. I know that my grandfather caused his family significant pain. I also know that he was a very funny man, and according to my Granny, he was a very kind person… when he wasn’t drinking. He was, in part, a product of his environment, just like we all are. He didn’t come of age in an enlightened time. I’m sure our strong Celtic heritage didn’t help matters much.

So anyway, this morning, I noticed that one of my sisters went on Facebook last night. She is a “friend”, but she almost never visits Facebook, and comments and “likes” by her are even rarer than that. I was surprised and amused to see comments and reactions by my sister. Then I looked at my Facebook feed and realized that an average person looking at it might come away with the idea that I’m kind of a bitch. I mean, seriously… it’s like looking at The Atlantic’s feed, which lately mostly consists of “doom porn”. A lot of my status updates are cranky. My blog posts, which I share on my personal page, often have cranky titles. I often share “bad news”. On the other hand, I do try to share “cute” stuff, too… like funny animal videos. But, by and large, my feed is kind of pessimistic and crotchety.

While we were eating breakfast, I looked over at Bill and said, as objectively as I could muster, “I see that Becky has left me a few comments and reactions. Looking at my my latest posts, I must come off as kind of a bitch.”

And Bill deadpanned, “I don’t think that’s ALWAYS true…”

I had a good laugh at that, and took a picture of Bill, who laughed with me. He knows I’m not always as cranky as I seem. Over our twenty years together, he’s had long talks with me. He’s seen me cry when I listen to especially beautiful or moving music. He’s heard me laugh when he says something funny, which is pretty often. I am easily amused, so offline I laugh a lot, even if I seem like a crab to people who have never met me in person. He’s heard me say loving things to him, and especially our dogs, who accept us the way we are. He knows that there’s a lot more beneath my prickly, bristly exterior. I can be kind and generous and very soft and emotional. But if you don’t actually know me, you might never see that side. Instead, I sometimes look like a jerk to other people. I’m kind of hard, rough, and coarse… kind of like a coconut. But beneath the shell is sweetness.

Bill has a good laugh with me after his observation that I’m not ALWAYS a bitch… Actually, he would never call me a bitch. Compared to Ex, I am an angel.

Maybe it’s not always a bad thing to look like a jerk, though. It’s kind of a defense mechanism, isn’t it? If I manage to turn someone off before they ever get to know me, maybe they aren’t actually worthy of knowing that softer side of my personality. It’s said that real friends are true rarities. Most people want to know you when you’re doing okay. It’s the ones that hang around when things are bad– and don’t have any ulterior motives for hanging around– that are real friends. I mean, a person could be dying of a terrible disease. If they are very wealthy or they have something of value to others, maybe others would hang around in hopes of being named in a will or something. But it’s the people who care for those who can’t give them anything that are real friends. In my experience, those types of people can indeed be rare.

So, when someone is good to me even when I’m feeling cranky or irritable, I pay attention. I give double points to those who make me laugh when I’m feeling like that. And I give triple points to people who don’t mind my many idiosyncrasies. For instance, yesterday I was trying (and failing) to finish my latest jigsaw puzzle, while listening to my HomePod. A karaoke version of the song “Hello Young Lovers” came on. I like that song, so I joined in… Bill complimented my “performance”.

I said, “Thank you. You are a very tolerant man.”

And Bill said, “And you are very talented woman. It would be different if my ex tried it.” Then he gave me a grin, Stanley Roper style.

Bwahahahaha… I’m a Three’s Company super fan.
Kinda like Stanley…

To put this into context, Ex once serenaded Bill with her version of Juice Newton’s 80s era song, “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)”. Because he’s a very good man, he listened to it with a straight face. For all I know, it really was a sweet moment between them. Ex reportedly wanted to study music, but was told she needed lessons before she could major in music at a local college. But now, Bill can’t bear to listen to “The Sweetest Thing” anymore. Ex actually ruined a lot of songs for Bill. Some of them are good songs, too. Like, he doesn’t like “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow, because Ex used it in one of her object lessons. And he doesn’t like “To Really Love a Woman” by Bryan Adams for the same reason. For the longest time, he didn’t want me to play Kenny Loggins’ children’s album, Return to Pooh Corner, because of Ex. Ditto to anything by Sesame Street or The Muppets. But he doesn’t mind when I burst into random song… or when I redo songs, replacing their words with silly, profane, or disgusting lyrics. At least when I sing, I do it with feeling and on key. 😉

Bill has proven to me time and again that he’s a real friend. So he gets to see the softer side of me whenever he wants. Or, at least he sees it after I’ve calmed down and had some dip.

The coconut vs. peach idea isn’t one I came up with. I’ve often heard certain cultures described that way. A lot of people think of certain southerners like peaches. They’re sweet, juicy, fuzzy, and warm on the outside. But beneath that sweetness, there’s a stone pit of a heart in some people. Those sweet “honey lippin'” types who are nice to people’s faces can sometimes be, deep down, hardhearted people who would disown their own family members for being gay or marrying someone who isn’t the same religion or race. And some people think of people from New York City as being more like coconuts. They’re gruff, cold, and hard on the exterior… but when something really terrible happens, they are compassionate and kind. Of course, neither of these stereotypes always apply to every situation. Some people from up north are mean. And some southerners are extremely kind and loving. But you get the idea, I hope…

Toodles!

Anyway, Mr. Bill wants to go to Wiesbaden and get a Swiss “vignette” for our car. We need one because we will be passing through Switzerland on our vacation, which starts next weekend. So I will close today’s post and get on with the day. I hope you all have a good Saturday. I’m really not as irritable as I seem… and contrary to some people’s opinions, I can be quite introspective. I just have some baggage full of peaches and coconuts.

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LDS, lessons learned, love, musings

A few more thoughts on Saturday’s Warrior and sweet spirits…

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the 1989 LDS production, Saturday’s Warrior, which I inadvertently stumbled across on Wednesday afternoon. That post generated a lot of discussion, and a surprising amount of interest among the more religiously experienced of my friends. I realized that in writing that long post, there were some things that I never got around to writing about yesterday. Part of the reason I never got around to completing my thoughts is that my initial post was pretty long and I simply ran out of “gas”. Another reason is that I wasn’t quite ready to explore it twenty-four hours ago. Again, I only discovered this “masterpiece” two days ago. There’s a lot to unpack.

So, even though I have another topic on my mind, I’m going to write a little bit more about my thoughts on Saturday’s Warrior. Some people may wonder why I would devote two posts to a LDS cultural relic that doesn’t even affect me personally. Remember, I grew up Protestant, and wasn’t introduced to Mormons until I was a young adult. Watching Saturday’s Warrior as a child didn’t “scar” me. However, after posting about this on Facebook and RfM, I realize that it affected a lot of people. Some of those people are friends I’ve never met, and some of them have been “scarred” by Saturday’s Warrior. Even if it’s just because they watched it yesterday at my prompting!

The concept of the “sweet spirit”…

One idea that I was introduced to, when I first started hanging out with ex Mormons, was the idea of the “sweet spirit”. What is a sweet spirit, you ask? A sweet spirit is a euphemism for a young woman who has a “nice personality” and not much else to offer. At least on the surface, anyway. One thing I noticed about Saturday’s Warrior, and didn’t really care for, were the digs about physical appearance. I realize that this emphasis on physical attractiveness is a thing for most everybody, especially when we’re growing.

In Mormonism, physical appearance seems to be especially important, as I think it is in other strict “culty” belief systems. I’ve noticed it among the fundies, too, in spite of their insistence that they focus on a person’s “countenance”. The girls are expected to be beautiful and thin, so they can attract a mate and have the best life. But I’ve known a lot of beautiful people who haven’t had the happiest lives. Why do we focus so much on appearance and image? It’s definitely not the best indicator of who will be happy and fulfilled.

In Saturday’s Warrior, the concept of the “sweet spirit” is mentioned in the first moments of the video. As the show begins, we’re introduced to the couple, Julie and Tod, who are in the pre-mortal existence, waiting to be born and live on Earth, where they expect they will one day meet and be a couple. We are to believe that Julie and Tod were together before, and are an “eternal couple”, yet Julie is still worried that Tod won’t find her on Earth after they’re born. Or worse, he’ll find her unattractive. Here’s the dialogue that opens their connection:

Julie: “Of course I can’t blame you for being excited… all the experience a physical body will bring… new friends and… girls.” [looking worried] “Oh, you’ll probably be EXTREMELY good looking and they’ll flock around you by the dozens!”

Tod: “Oh Julie, I can hardly wait!”

Julie: “Oh, on the other hand, I’ll probably be very PLAIN!”

Tod: “It’s enough to make you want to CRY and SING and SHOUT all at once! Hey! Somebody out there! I’m COMING!”

Julie: “Ohhh!” [turns and sobs]

Tod: “Hey, what’s the matter?”

Julie: “All you can think about is getting down to those physical bodies!”

Tod: “Huh?”

Julie: “Oh, and GIRLS, and don’t try to hide it, Tod, you can hardly wait!”

Tod: “I can’t?”

Julie: [very upset and insecure] “Oh, so you ADMIT IT!!” [defeated] “Go on, then. Have your wild FLING on Earth! Just as long as YOU’RE happy.”

Tod: [grasping Julie’s shoulders and consoling] “Julie… how can you say such things, after all we’ve promised?”

Julie: [turning with hair flip] “What good are promises in a world where EVERYTHING will be forgotten? Even if by some miracle we DO meet? What chance is there that you could possibly recognize me?”

Tod: “Hey, how long have we known each other?”

Julie: [slightly calmer] “Forever…”

Tod: “And loved each other?”

Julie: [smiles] “Forever…”

Tod: “Do you think we’re just going to forget all of that?”

Julie: [dreamy] “Yes… [suddenly horrified] I mean NO! I mean, I don’t KNOW what I mean!”

Tod: [embracing Julie in a hug] “Julie, I LOVE you, and if I have to search the WHOLE world over, I’ll FIND you…”

Julie: [turns away, upset]

Tod: [insistently grabbing her] “And as for not recognizing each other, why, that’s like saying that the sun, and the moon, and the stars will never recognize their GLORY!” [excitedly using hand gestures] “The truth and beauty and virtue will never recognize their OWN!”

Julie: [horrified] “But what if I’m UGLY?!”

Tod: [deadpans] “Ugly?”

Julie: “I knew it! I knew it!”

Tod: [comforting] “I’m just kidding, Julie… if you were the strangest looking girl on Earth, I’d still love you.”

Julie: “Oh Tod…”

The mushy dialogue continues, with Tod reassuring Julie that her looks won’t be important to him when they finally meet. But then we’re reminded that they will forget everything that happened in the pre-existence, and, well we all know what happens when young, shallow people get together. They tend to be attracted to physical appearance. As all of this is going on, we have to suspend disbelief, as the characters talk about what it will be like to have physical bodies, when they clearly already HAVE physical bodies in the pre-mortal existence. 😉 Tod and Julie share a loving duet, and then we’re introduced to Julie’s brothers and sisters. It doesn’t take long before the concept of the “sweet spirit” comes up again.

The brothers and sisters happily talk about what it will be like when the twins, Pam and Jimmy, are born to their parents. One of the sisters proposes they all be born at once– seven up-lets! But a little brother asks, “Do you wanna kill mama in one shot?” It’s funny to realize that in 2022, there have actually been some women who have given birth to seven or eight children at one time. That was an inconceivable thought in 1989, but the miracles of modern medicine have made it possible today.

And then one of the other brothers introduces Jimmy, who does his Donny Osmond schtick. He talks about what he feared.

Jimmy: “Well naturally, I had lots of fears. But one that really had me scared is that I would have, uh, such animal magnetism, such charisma, that no one would notice my sweet spirit.”

Everyone groans, and then twin sister Pam is asked about her thoughts.

Pam: “Well, of course being a girl, my number one fear is that I would have nothing BUT a sweet spirit.”

The kids all say “no” in horrified tones.

Pam: [twirling] “But with beauty or without, as long as I can dance my way through life, that’s all that MATTERS!”

Pam turns out to be very pretty; she looks like Marie Osmond. But she winds up in a wheelchair, so there will be no dancing in her life, and having a physical disability might make her less of a “catch” to some of the shallower people in the world. She later sings a dreadful song called “Daddy’s Nose”, which shows the whole family dancing with huge, fake, beak-like noses. I read that in 2014, they changed the title to “Daddy’s Genes”. I’m not sure if that makes it better. Maybe they changed it because it’s so easy to get plastic surgery these days. Below are the lyrics:

All my friends told me take advantage of your face
Other people so endowed have really gone some place
So I dreamed of Hollywood till it occurred to me
Someone beat me to the punch named Jimmy Durante

A nose is a nose like a rose is a rose
As everybody knows
But may we propose that the rosiest nose
Is a one that plainly shows
You ain’t got a nose less it touches your toes
And it grows every time that it blows
Wouldn’t be so bad if it’d stayed with ol’ dad
But we’ve all got daddy’s nose

Riverdale as you know has had a lot of quaking
Scientific tests were made to find out why the shaking
They finally zeroed in to find the cause of all our woes
We only have an earthquake when daddy blows his nose

A nose is a nose like a rose is a rose
As everybody knows
But may we propose that the rosiest nose
Is a one that plainly shows
It a rack for your clothes a plow when it snows
Or use it for a garden hose
Wouldn’t be so bad if it’d stayed with ol’ dad
But we’ve all got daddy’s nose
Mom’s even got it
Yes we’ve all got daddy’s nose
He really blew it
Yes we’ve all got daddy’s nose

There are other parts of the show that emphasize how important looks are. For instance, the missionary, Wally Kessler, has a companion named Harold Green who is overweight. I swear, these two must have been the inspiration for Elder Price and Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon Musical. Harold isn’t even that fat. He just looks a little plainer and more slovenly next to Wally, who looks like one of the Osmond Brothers.

Toward the end of the show, Harold and Wally are teaching Tod the gospel. He’s an artist, who is always in the park drawing. Tod, then not LDS, had talked to Jimmy, drawing him as he could be, rather than as he was. Later, as Wally and Harold lament that they haven’t baptized anyone, they notice Tod drawing again. They take a chance– prompted by the spirit, no doubt– and there’s a montage showing how they converted Tod, making him a “better” version of himself by introducing him to the “one true church”. At one point, Wally shows Harold a film, which is handily broadcast on Harold’s stomach. Harold, like many good Mormons of the time, was wearing a white dress shirt, and his size makes it easy for his belly to serve as a screen. The message is, he’s too fat, and that makes him laughable, and less lovable, even though he redeems himself and Wally later.

And the character Julie is shown looking in the mirror, primping and admiring herself. She had been devastated that Wally went off on his mission, since she thinks he’s the one for her. But then she meets another guy named Peter and sends Wally a “dear John” letter. Harold, the overweight missionary companion, tells Wally that maybe it’s for the best, but Wally says, “What would you know about love or the pain I’m going through?” as Harold sheepishly moves away. “And to think I trusted her!”

Wally is distraught about losing Julie, so Elder Green gives him a pep talk, and looks like a fool in the process. He’s comic relief.

Then Tod and Julie sing about being the perfect people they were meant to be. There’s lots of mushy gushing, again focusing on the whole “prince and princess” romantic love, which as we all know, only exists in fairytales. Look at the British royal family! But it’s promoted in this show like it’s something that can happen if only you have the right religious beliefs.

As I was watching and re-watching this video, it occurred to me that while this show is kind of silly and entertaining, and it obviously takes some cues from some of the popular sitcoms of the 1980s, like Growing Pains and Family Ties, the overall impression I got is that, overall, Mormonism is kind of silly. One really has to overcome cognitive dissonance to buy into some of the concepts that are presented in this show. Now, before anyone comes at me, please understand that I know that Saturday’s Warrior isn’t all there is to Mormonism. It’s simply meant to be entertaining. But if you watch it, not having been raised with some of the concepts that are conveyed in this production, you might come away with some impressions that aren’t all that favorable.

I know, for instance, that physical attraction is very important to young people. I know that young people are especially aware of their looks, and that so-called “sweet spirits” might not have the best luck in attracting romantic partners. And, of course, in this production, the partners have to be of the opposite sex, since Mormons aren’t exactly supportive of couples who aren’t heterosexual. But we hear the girls worrying about not being pretty enough. And we see one of the guys being made into the fool because he’s fat.

Kudos to actor D.L. (David) Walker for pulling off the comic relief in his turn as Elder Green. He was a good sport. I see on IMDB that he’s had a lot of roles over the years. He might even be the best known of all of the actors on this program. I guess he did get the last laugh, after all. Not everyone can be a leading man, but plenty of people can be character actors, especially if there’s something unique or interesting about them. I get that message after looking up D.L. Walker on IMDB, but I wouldn’t get it if I just watched Saturday’s Warrior, which is a show that has been shown to so many LDS youngsters. In that show, Walker’s character is made to be the unattractive fool who “can’t know about love”, even though a thinking person would know that’s not necessarily true. In fact, while everyone else in this production seems to have pretty light resumes on IMDB, the “fat guy” with personality appears to have enjoyed a pretty good show biz career. He’s also been married three times. I guess he’s needed a couple of tries to find the woman he was destined to be with since the pre-existence.

One of my Facebook friends, who did attend the LDS church for a few years as a young woman, nicely summed things up. We were discussing the message of this movie, which she didn’t see when she was an active churchgoer. She wrote:

You have to have been indoctrinated. It’s for Mormons. Don’t have non-Mormon friends, don’t smoke cigarettes, don’t experience life; just stay in our dumb cult and make more Mormons. If you want to do anything else, you are very bad and will surely be unhappy. Being a total weirdo is fun! P.S. We’re not weird.

Yes… I think she’s absolutely right. To a lot of us who aren’t from a heavily Mormon area, this does come off as pretty weird. And, at least to me, it comes off as superficial, childish, and silly. I know, for instance, that there are millions of people in the world. Many, but not all, believe in a God of some sort. But to watch this movie, and listen to the opening dialogues, you come away with the idea that only the best people end up in Utah, where they will be raised LDS, and spend their lives searching for the perfect heterosexual, white mate, and their beliefs will be Mormon styled Christian. They are predestined to have a certain number of children, and their decisions in life will lead to exactly what the Mormon God intended them to be.

If you think about it, it’s kind of a lazy way to go through life. It’s as if there’s a blueprint for reaching the highest level of Heaven. Follow the steps toward righteousness, and someday, you’ll be in the Celestial Kingdom, which to me, seems like it would be a very boring place. After all, most everyone would be white, Mormon, and worried so very much about their looks before they get born again, and then spend their lives looking for the same people they knew in another life. I may need to stop and ponder that a bit.

If you assume that there’s a big plan, and God has made a plan for every single being on Earth, even if they aren’t members of the LDS church, it seems even more far fetched. But Mormons are often advised to “doubt their doubts” and “put any troubling thoughts on the shelf.” Hell, there’s even a brilliant song about that concept in the Book of Mormon Musical, which again, I think, took some inspiration from Saturday’s Warrior.

“Turn It Off”… like a light switch. It’s actually kind of a sad song.

Actually, when I think about all of the stories I’ve read over the years about the damage caused by “denying” thoughts and feelings, the song “Turn It Off” really seems sad to me. How many terrible marriages happened because people denied their feelings? How many people suppressed their feelings of sadness and anger, only to have it turn into catastrophic depression and anxiety years later? How many people have actually killed themselves because they couldn’t bring themselves to deal with their truths? This isn’t just a Mormon thing, though. It’s something that many people go through in life. They feel pressured to quash their thoughts and feelings and just believe, no matter how ridiculous, upsetting, or profoundly unbelievable something is. I think it wastes a lot of time and energy, and I think strict, culty belief systems, like Mormonism, make that phenomenon even worse than it has to be.

I know a lot of people love being Mormon. Or, so they will insist if you ask them, or if they’re missionaries. But I know, having hung out on RfM for so many years, that if you don’t fit the profile in that group, it really can be hell. There’s a real emphasis on looking happy and presenting the right image. Look at the Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell case. I recently wrote a review of The Doomsday Mother, a book about that tragedy, in which a lot of people died, mainly over illusions, delusions, and image… not to mention mental illness. I also watched a Dateline episode about that case.

I couldn’t help but notice Lori Vallow Daybell’s emphasis on looks. She entered beauty pageants, for instance. One of her friends was interviewed, and I couldn’t help but notice that her friend was extremely well groomed and even looked like perhaps she’d had some plastic surgery. She definitely had coiffed hair and wore a lot of makeup. Yes, that would be expected of someone on television, but I got the sense that this was a normal thing for Lori and her friends, all of whom were very much into Mormonism. Lori has been married five times. So much for finding “the one”.

I think if I had been raised Mormon, I probably would have been considered a (not so) “sweet spirit”. I know that people have thought of me that way even outside of an image conscious organization like Mormonism. Growing up, watching my sisters, cousins, and friends date a lot, while I spent weekends alone, was hard for me. And yet, I don’t think I would have enjoyed the pressures that come from being really “pretty” and desirable to men. Years beyond adolescence, I realize that there’s a lot more to me that the exterior. Those who get to know me eventually find that out. Some people like it. Many others don’t, but the ones who like it are almost always excellent people. Also, as most people find out, I’m not actually a very “sweet” person. I can be grumpy, opinionated, and temperamental. I think I’m basically kind, deep down– but sweet, I definitely ain’t. And I am not good at faking it. Many of the people who do end up liking me have told me they like me because I’m not fake. But not everyone appreciates “au natural” me, and most people don’t take the time to consider why I am the way I am. They have enough of their own shit to figure out. 😉

Maybe it’s better that I’m not extremely well liked or admired. It takes a lot of pressure off, and I don’t have to waste my time with fake people. Because seriously… have you ever considered what a burden it is to be really physically attractive to others? You’re always attracting people who are likewise attractive, and more than a few of them turn out to be boring, entitled, and narcissistic. If you’re a nice person, you’re always turning down people who find you attractive and interesting, but perhaps you don’t have the same feelings for them. And maybe you’ll even attract sociopaths, who only look good on the surface, but deep down they’re creeps. I think of guys like Scott Peterson, who, no doubt, had plenty of women who wanted to date him. Laci Peterson may have seemed lucky when they married, but it turns out she was not lucky at all. Same goes for anyone who thought Lori Vallow Daybell was a hottie.

Anyway… I guess it’s not a bad thing that I watched Saturday’s Warrior. It did teach me some things, although maybe not what the creators had wanted to teach. I guess I’m just grateful that I’m not burdened by that kind of a belief system. I would imagine that it adds a lot of unnecessary stress and strife to life, and life is hard enough as it is. Having to worry about the exterior so much, as I follow the many rules of a very demanding religion, is not very appealing. And while the idea of a close and loving family is lovely, there is a downside to having that kind of a family. For one thing, that kind of connection makes it harder to go out and live life on one’s own terms.

I told my mother the other day that I didn’t know when, or even if, I would move back to the States. She sounded slightly sad, since she will be 84 years old this year, and she probably wonders if we’ll ever see each other again in person. But we have never had a very close relationship, and I am not close to my sisters. If I did live closer to home, I doubt we’d be any closer. And it would be easier to be caught up in conflicts and manipulations, too. I know this from personal experience. So, while I would like to be closer to family other than Bill, I also realize that not being closer is kind of a blessing in some ways. There are certainly fewer fights and petty dramas to contend with. I don’t have the time or the energy for that anymore. I’ve realized that eventually, we all mostly end up alone… or we are the ones who die first. Who wants to spend life worrying about not being a “sweet spirit”?

So I guess it’s time to end this post and get on with my Friday. I hope this post offers food for thought.

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divorce, Ex, family, love, marriage

Proud to be a “good strong woman”…

Keb’ Mo’ has a new album coming out. I love his music, so I’ve preordered it. So far, two songs have been released. One is a remake of the Bill Withers’ classic, “Lean on Me.” The other is a song that features Darius Rucker. It’s called “Good Strong Woman”. I listened to that song this morning after having breakfast with Bill. He’s staying home again today, because he’s taking a couple more online classes at the Jung Institute in Zurich. Bill’s chance to study Jung directly from the source is one great thing that has come out of living in Germany. It’s really something he enjoys doing, which is as gratifying for me to see as it is for him to experience.

Below is the video for Keb’ Mo’s new song.

I love this song and its message. I try to be a “good strong woman” for Bill.

Our breakfast conversation was about a letter to advice columnist Carolyn Hax that was printed in today’s edition of The Washington Post. The letter writer is having a disagreement with her father over her treatment of his wife. Below is the letter in question:

Wow… my first thoughts? What a brat!

Regular readers probably know why this letter gave me pause. Technically, I am the stepmother to Bill’s two daughters. I’ve only met them in person one time. For many years, they were estranged from their dad, mainly because their mother is extremely toxic and immature and she was more interested in punishing Bill for not letting her continue to abuse him, than being a kind and attentive mother and a “good strong woman” to her current husband. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason why Bill and his daughters should have been kept apart, other than their mother’s warped and extremely petty vindictiveness. And if I sound bitter and snotty, so be it. I know Bill, and unfortunately, I know enough about his ex wife. I am definitely not the whole problem in our case.

Fortunately, Bill’s younger daughter has come around, and it’s plain that she’s not like her mother. So when Bill and his daughter Skype, I’m happy about it. Usually, unless I happen to be sitting in the room when they Skype, I give them their privacy. Almost two years ago, Bill finally got to see his daughter in person, after 15 years of separation. He met his grandchildren. They had plenty of time to talk privately, because when he was in Utah seeing his daughter, I was in Germany, hanging out with Arran. I encouraged this gathering, and was gratified when it went well. Bill’s older daughter remains estranged, but she’s 30 years old and has to make her own choices. So be it.

It should come as no surprise to my readers that I empathize with the letter writer’s stepmother. On the other hand, I also recognize that there isn’t a lot of information here. We don’t know how old the letter writer was when his dad married his second wife. We don’t know the circumstances of his split from the letter writer’s mother. All we know is that stepmom is only ten years older than her stepdaughter, and unlike my stepdaughters and me, this stepdaughter and her stepmom actually have a relationship. It sounds like their relationship, for whatever reason, isn’t a particularly good one.

I appreciated Carolyn’s response to this writer. I think she hit the nail on the head, too. Below is her take on this situation.

Stepdaughter: If the “so much more” resembles this, then you do owe your stepmother/dad’s wife/24-year family member that apology.

So many times with so many stories, things can go either way, depending on all the details I don’t have. And maybe this one still can, too; I obviously have little to work with.

But then, ooh, I get the Magic Aside, the throwaway scrap in a question that’s the comprehension equivalent of fumbling around in the dark and accidentally bumping a light switch.

“She’s only 10 years older than me.”

Ah.

How dare he.

Form a lasting partnership with someone younger than he is.

Right?

Think for a moment. If you had fallen in love with someone, a fellow adult, and your father was giving you grief because your partner was 20 years younger, would you be okay with that? I doubt you’d appreciate his being in a 24-year huff over it, and still imposing his huff on your family’s guest lists.

Could your stepmother have let this go? Maybe. But, 24 years. That’s how long she’s been part of your family, and you’re still pressuring others (successfully!) to treat her as an interloper. If you want backup for excluding someone from a gathering, then you need proof of malice on her part. Ookie age proximity or old wounds or not being your mom won’t cut it.

No, of course, you “shouldn’t be forced.” But your conscience, your better self, your love for your dad, your enduring peace of mind and your humanity are all inner voices that are overdue to exert some force.

Again, unless there’s malice — and I mean evident stepmotherly ill intent, not just missteps in a time of awkward transition — I urge you to hear the pleas, please, of your better angels for you to swallow your pride, let go, and respect her rightful place.

I know a lot of people who don’t know our story might want to “come at me”. I’ve heard many times over the years about how I should “be the bigger person” and “recognize that I’m an ‘interloper’ in an established relationship” and, even worse, some have even asked me if I broke up Bill’s first marriage. The answer to that question is a resounding “NO”. I didn’t even meet Bill in person until almost a year after his divorce.

In four days, Bill and I will have been married for 19 years. He’s almost eight years older than I am. If had been the mother of his daughters, I would have been a very young mom. But, at this point, Bill and I have been together about twice as long as he was with his ex wife. We are extremely compatible, which makes me very happy, because when I was in college, I went through seven roommates… and even that was with two semesters of living alone.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, though. One of those roommates basically kicked me out of the room after our first week of freshman year so she could bunk with the party girl across the hall. One moved in for part of a semester because she got kicked out of her room for being busted with pot. That roommate later got kicked out of school for not going to class. And another was a student teacher, who was only at school for a few weeks until she went home to student teach. I got along fine with three roommates, and barely tolerated a fourth. We simply weren’t compatible.

There are always extenuating circumstances, and things aren’t always as they seem at face value. Still, I had friends who found their besties during freshman year and roomed together the whole time we were in college. Some of them are now divorced, even if they’re still buddies with their former roommates. I, on the other hand, couldn’t find a really compatible roommate, but I did find a husband who is just about perfect for me. So what if I came second? Bill and I are married. We love each other. I am now part of his family, and he’s part of mine. And because we love each other and are family, neither of us has to be alone as we get older. I’m so glad that Bill’s younger daughter understands that, and supports it.

When I read the letter in Carolyn Hax’s column today, what really stood out to me was just how self-centered and petty the writer came across. The line about her father’s wife being “only 10 years older” reveals what I think is one of many bones of contention this lady has with her dad and his wife. She mentions there is “so much more to the story”, but chooses to mention the age difference instead of some other reason why she and stepmom aren’t friends. That, to me, is very telling. The age difference obviously really bugs her.

However, if stepmom was a legal adult when she and the letter writer’s dad got married, the age difference shouldn’t matter, especially since they have been married for 24 years. A marriage that has lasted that long probably works well on some level. If stepmom wasn’t a legal adult when she got married, then she was a victim, and shouldn’t be blamed. Either way, it sounds like dad and stepmom love and respect each other, and letter writer should, in turn, understand that, and grow the fuck up.

The fact that the letter writer’s dad is supporting his wife’s complaints about his daughter’s apparent toxic, petty behavior reveal that this isn’t a marriage strictly of convenience. I do know there are marriages that are like that– people get married solely for money, security, or some other commodity. For example, I suspect Ex and her husband have a loveless marriage, based on what I know about her first two husbands and the way she reportedly treats #3. But, based on the letter above, I don’t think that’s the situation for the letter writer’s dad and his wife. It sounds like the dad is supporting his wife. He has his wife’s back, not his daughter’s.

Oooh… now this would be exciting.

The daughter sounds like she is trying to dictate to her father the terms of their relationship. She’s trying to force him to choose between his wife and his daughter. It doesn’t sound like she’s considered the fact that he gets a vote, too. He may very well decide that his relationship with his wife, the woman with whom he shares a home, and presumably, a bed, is more important than a relationship with his grown daughter, who, at least in this letter, comes off as really petty and obnoxious. Like it or not, her dad has chosen to marry someone other than her mother. She should be grateful that he’s found love and isn’t alone. And yes, she should show some basic respect to her stepmother, just as she should to most people. Otherwise, why not simply go no contact?

The comments on this post are pretty interesting. Lots of people are on “team stepmom”. Lots of people are supporting the letter writer. It’s true that the dad/husband is responsible for the fact that his daughter exists. Many people feel that a person’s children should always come first. Personally, I disagree with that, since children usually grow up to be adults, and they need to learn that the world doesn’t always revolve around them.

If the dad decides that he’s willing to continue a relationship with his daughter without his wife’s involvement, that might work out fine. However, based on the way the dad reacted to his daughter’s behavior, it sounds like he’s putting his wife and marriage first. And that’s probably the best thing to do, in the long run. His daughter is grown up, now, so he should focus on living his life, making himself happy, and staying healthy. His daughter can fend for herself. If she doesn’t grow up and stop being so selfish, she may have to do that.

Divorce can really suck. It’s often expensive, painful, complicated, and heartbreaking. However, sometimes divorce is absolutely necessary. It was definitely necessary in Bill’s case. He couldn’t stay with his ex wife without risking his health, or even his life. And he should not have been expected to, especially not for the convenience of someone else– and certainly not for someone who is an adult. Bill’s stepmother had “issues” with Bill’s divorce, because it made it harder for her to see his kids, who technically aren’t even her grandchildren. She doesn’t know the whole story about everything that went wrong, or the most egregiously awful parts of the story, but she also didn’t have to live in that hellish situation. Bill did.

Maybe the letter writer had a legitimate gripe if she was a child when the divorce happened, and the stepmom was legitimately abusive to her in some way. She’s now a grown woman, though, and she probably needs to get over herself and accept her stepmother as a full member of the family. If she can’t or won’t do that, then maybe it’s time she went no contact. Of course, going no contact is a big decision, and it can come with significant consequences. But sometimes it really is the healthy thing to do for everyone involved. Either way, it sounds like dad is sticking with his wife, and she’s going to have to accept that.

I don’t know what went wrong in the relationship between the letter writer’s parents, but obviously, they couldn’t be together. Her dad has now found someone to love, and they’ve been together for a long time, in spite of the daughter’s disdain and disrespect toward their marriage. If the letter writer loves her dad, she should understand and respect that, and stop trying to divide the family with petty foolishness. It sounds like he’s found himself a “good strong woman”, and she should simply be happy for him and try to co-exist with her. I’m sure the letter writer’s dad would want the same kind of strong and supportive partner for her.

Below are the lyrics to Keb’ Mo’s new song, “Good Strong Woman”.

Mama said, “Son, listen to me
That girl is T-R-O-U-B-L-E
So watch out, I know you love her but she’s not your friend
She’ll only be there long as you got money to spend”

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday
I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
Hm, a good strong woman (strong woman)

She will never leave you if you treat her right
She’ll be there in the morning till the late of night
She’s the kind that’s never gonna let you down
Makes you put the bricks on the world around

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday
I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)

If you wanna make the bad times better
Make a good thing last forever

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday

I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
Yeah, I’ll be a good strong woman

Oh, a good strong woman
She’s got your back, strong woman
Talking ’bout a good strong woman
(Good strong woman)

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book reviews, healthcare, love, marriage

Repost: Catherine Graves’ intimate memoir about losing her husband…

Here’s a reposted review from Epinions.com. It’s short, which tells me I probably wrote it for their annual “lean n’ mean” challenges. We were supposed to write reviews of less than 500 words to be entered in the monthly sweepstakes. I think I won a couple of those. Anyway, this post was written February 6, 2013 and appears here as/is.

Catherine Graves feared marital infidelity when she noticed a change in her husband, John.  The two had been running a business together.  Catherine had always been the practical one, while John was more whimsical and easygoing.  But then his behavior began to change and Catherine was sure he was cheating on her.  Then she wondered if he was dealing with a serious bout of depression.  They saw a therapist, who thought maybe John needed time in a rehab facility to find out what was wrong.  The couple went to Sierra Tuscon, an inpatient counseling center, where a staffer brought up the possibility that John Graves’ problem was neurological, rather than psychological.  When John experienced seizures and was taken to a hospital, his brain tumor was finally discovered.

The doctor who discovered the tumor told Catherine that it was cancerous and putting pressure on his brain.  She told Catherine that while John could have treatments that might extend his life, his condition was terminal.  John Graves had what is known as Glioblastoma multiforme, a nasty and thankfully rare brain tumor that kills quickly.

In her 2011 book, Checking Out: An In-Depth Book At Losing Your Mind, Catherine Graves explains what it was like to suddenly lose her beloved husband to a personality altering sickness and death.  Then, once John died, Catherine began to lose her mind with depression.  The aftermath of brain cancer nearly destroyed the author, her children, and John’s children.   

My thoughts

I was alerted to Checking Out when I read an online review of it on CNN last year.  It took awhile to get around to reading it, and once I did get to it, reading the book didn’t take much time.  It’s a short memoir, but packed with raw emotion and eloquence.  Graves includes touching revelations from her children, Alex and Caroline, products of another relationship who thought of John Graves as their dad and were devastated to lose him. 

As poignant as I think Checking Out is, I thought it was a bit short and could have used more substance.  The paperback version is priced at $16.95 and $9.99 on Kindle, which is pretty steep for a book that only takes a few hours to read.  On the other hand, this book is a beautifully written tribute from a woman who obviously loved her husband and whose tragic loss almost destroyed her.  Her recovery is triumphant and I was particularly moved by the thoughtful passages her children contributed.        

Checking Out will move many readers as it did me.  I certainly recommend it to those who can bear to read about such a depressing subject as losing one’s beloved spouse.  While I wish this book had been a little more substantive, I admit that it’s beautifully written.  I think it rates five stars and a box of tissues.

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